HESSTON, Kan. — A former Kansas budget director who served both Democrat and Republican governors says the question for Anabaptists is not “Should we be political?” but “How should we be political?”
Speaking at Mennonite World Review Inc. annual corporation meeting March 6 at Hesston College, Duane Goossen said politics is fundamentally about how people with different ideas and values live together.
Goossen is senior fellow at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth and a member of Southern Hills Mennonite Church in Topeka. Beginning in 1982, he served 14 years as a Republican in the Kansas House of Representatives and then 12 years as Kansas budget director.
“We are responsible for what goes on in our places, and we share that responsibility with many people who hold quite a wide variety of values,” he said. “Anabaptists are a politically engaged set of people.”
From upsetting systems to the point of martyrdom in the 16th century, to global migrations seeking better opportunities, to advocating for various contemporary initiatives, Mennonites have routinely engaged with authorities and local communities.
“If we have deeply held values, we should let those values come through in our political actions,” he said, specifying service and peacemaking as widely agreed-upon Anabaptist values.
This means beliefs are demonstrated by actions; a spirit of serving others makes people more important than political boundaries; and a spirit of living at peace together is manifested in tolerance.
Goossen said such beliefs are political values Anabaptists can contribute to their communities. He gave four examples:
- Health care: While the Affordable Care Act is not perfect, it is intended to address how citizens live together by extending health care access to everyone, especially to people with weak or nonexistent political voices.
- Taxes: Recent changes in tax policy in Kansas have benefited the wealthiest Kansans the most, driving up deficits, widening the tax rate gap between the lowest and highest earners and putting strain on vital social services. “Sometimes when I’ve spoken to Mennonite audiences I’ve said paying your state taxes is just as important as giving to Mennonite Central Committee,” Goossen said. “That’s a tongue-in-cheek statement, [but these are social services and] a fair taxation system does not happen on its own.”
- Immigration: Undocumented immigrants cross a dangerous, militarized southern border to flee situations of suffering. They are met in the U.S. with antipathy and derision, but people are more important than political borders.
- LGBTQ rights: Political systems should give everyone a place, a vote and basic rights, but some groups haven’t been respected, Goossen said.
“With the value of finding a way for all people to live together peaceably, I wish I could say Anabaptists have a lot to contribute to this area,” he said. “Our church structures are still exclusionary to sexual minorities. We Mennonites have been projecting this intolerance, and that drags down our witness in other areas.”
Though political solutions won’t solve every problem, Goossen said that should not discourage Anabaptists from trying to make the world a better place through political involvement.
“We have so much to offer, so let our values come through,” he said. “Let service and peacemaking come through.”
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